Luscious and strange, this apple had me at first bite.
Everything about Empress is a little uncommon. Take a look at the photo and mentally remove the stem. A bit topsy turvy, don't you think?
Many apples have ribs that terminate in little bumps or chins, but usually at the base, not at the crown. Many taper towards the bottom; this one is plum-shaped.
Not every Empress is tapered at the top, but the ones I saw had rib bumps more prominent at the crown than the base. Otherwise this is a medium-sized apple, with a deep purple blush over light yellow tinged with green. The small light lenticels set off the attractive blush, and a smoke-colored bloom decorates the skin in patches.
The fruit has an enticing aroma of cider and spice.
Empress's flesh is also unusual, a yielding coarse-grained apricot yellow. (Update 2012: That yellow is not typical for Empress.) It is both rich and sweet with a little tempering astringency, and indistinct notes of melon, faint coconut and oranges, and fruity hard candy that reminds me a little of the "fake watermelon" taste in Vista Bella (another early variety).
This last flavor peaks intensely for just an instant before fading, the only jarring note in the entire presentation. The net effect is not so much tropical as succulent, and the texture, color, and flavors conspire to suggest that this is not an apple at all but some exotic fruit of an entirely different genus. The peel is chewy.
Empress is another product of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Cornell, a cross between Jonamac and Vista Bella. I really recommend this one.
Update August 2012: I've had the pleasure of eating more of these this year, and felt compelled to note that the "apricot" flesh color I found above must have been a fluke.